(Four and a Half Years Later)
"Honey, I'm home!" I called out gleefully.
Warm arms wrapped around my waist. "I don't think this counts as a home. We don't even have a couch yet."
"Shea, don't ruin this for me. It's our first apartment."
Shea looked at me like I was crazy. "No, it's not."
"Fine. But it is our first post- college apartment. It's actually… nice," I argued.
"It's better," he conceded, "but you're acting like it's the Taj Mahal. Won't you at least let me take you out to dinner? I heard you and Carmen talking the other night about that new Italian restaurant that just opened down the street. Takeout isn't exactly the best birthday dinner."
"Of course it is. Especially when I'm not the one paying," I said seriously. "I don't need anything fancy. You know that."
I do. Which is why I got you this." Shea led me into the kitchen. There was a prettily wrapped box on the counter. I rushed over to it, grinning.
"I told you not to do this," I lectured him even as I tore eagerly into the paper.
"Which in girl-speak means that I'll be in big trouble if I don't. I know how it is."
I opened the box and saw that it was a jacket. On the back of it in glittery, gaudy rhinestones, was written 'Property of Shea.' My grin froze on my face while I decided whether I was amused or insulted. Shea's laughter decided it for me. "What were you thinking?"
A camera light flashed. "I was thinking that the look on your face would make a priceless picture." He showed me the screen of his digital camera. He was right, it was pretty funny. Or it would have been, if I wasn't annoyed at him. Seeing that I was unamused, he shut up and started digging in his pockets, pulling out random bits of junk.
"Ah! Here we are," he said to himself, then presented me with another pretty box, this one considerably smaller. "Here's your real present."
I took it and opened slower this time. If this was another joke…
But it wasn't. It was the loveliest necklace I'd ever seen. A delicate gold chain held an artistic crystalline heart, finely crafted. It was about the last thing from extravagant, which was absolutely perfect for me.
"Shea," I whispered, at a loss for words. I looked into his eyes, knowing that he would see what I was thinking there. He always understood me so well.
"I'm glad you like it."
"Like it? That's a bit of an understatement." I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. It was still the best way to say 'thank you' or 'sorry.' "I love you."
"You'd better. Especially after the trouble I went through to find a place that would write 'Property of Shea' on that hoodie there."
I playfully shoved him, muttering,"Jerk."
Shea seemed unperturbed. "Happy birthday, Aislin."
The doorbell rang, and Shea went off to pay the Chinese delivery boy. I stayed in the kitchen, looking around and smiling to myself. I was in a place I'd never believed I could be in, just a few years ago. I was happy, and I had Shea and Carmen.
I had my memories of Fallon, too, but I didn't cry so much anymore. I was a different girl now. When he'd died, a big part of me had, too. What was left of that innocent, happy girl had grown and strengthened. Now I was moving on, and today was a day for beginnings.
"I hope this place is as good as you say it is," Shea said, breaking my chain of thought. "Their prices are practically criminal."
"But I'm worth it," I said, giving him a look that dared him to deny it.
We ate in silence for a little while, until Shea said conversationally, "I was going to propose today, but I didn't want to ruin your birthday if you said no."
I balked at him. "What?" Shea shrugged casually, overdoing it a little bit.
"I think we both know I wouldn't say no," I told him. I didn't miss the absurdity of this conversation.
Shea grinned. "I was hoping you would say that." He shifted a little and pulled yet another box out. My heart leapt into my throat. I grabbed at it, but he moved it away again.
"No, no, I have to do this properly." I wanted to argue, but the look on his face told me not to. Impatience was more my thing than his. Shea shifted so that he was on one knee, then looked annoyed. "Stand up so I'm not taller."
I laughed, but did as he asked, slowly. I had to make sure my knees would support me. "No fancy business, okay?" I would just about die if I had to wait another instant. Long, pretty speeches were best left at the altar, I thought giddily.
"Aislin Connelly, will you marry me?"
The ring, it was exactly like I'd always imagined. Small, but not too plain. Diamond, but not princess-cut; that style, it wasn't really for me. I found that I couldn't speak, so I settled for tackle-hugging him, instead.
"Aw, don't leave me hanging," Shea chuckled.